Almost any time you order food at a restaurant; it comes presented on a plate with some sort of wonderful sauce. From ketchup to tartar sauce and gravy to more complex sauces like béarnaise or hollandaise, sauces have a distinct purpose. Instead of simply covering food and masking its flavor, a sauce should be used sparingly to accentuate the flavor of that beautiful steak or delicate piece of salmon. The history of sauces is vast and interesting, but plays a key role in the evolution of the culinary scene and the way sauces are used today.
As little kids, we would drown our veggies in Ranch or our fries in ketchup almost as a way to make food more palatable or use those foods solely as a vehicle to get the sauce to our mouths. As adults, hopefully we have evolved to the point where we understand more of the purpose of sauce, but there is that occasional sauce that is so good we feel we could drink it by itself. However, doing so would probably not be as satisfying as we imagine. On the flip side, what would food be without an accompanying sauce? While it would still be good, no doubt, something would definitely be missing.
The French are credited with developing the five base sauces from which other sauces are derived. These “mother sauces” include Béchamel (white sauce), Tomate (tomato sauce), Veloute (light stock based), Espagnole (dark stock based) and Hollandaise.
Béchamel or white sauce is probably the most commonly used and familiar to home cooks. More than likely one of the first of the five sauces to be developed, it’s a basic sauce that starts with a light roux - equal parts of flour and a fat such as butter or oil. This mixture is then combined with milk or cream and cooked until thick and bubbly.
There are several theories about who gets credit for first developing béchamel sauce, but it’s probably safe to say that it happened in either the 1600s or 1700s. Since there was no refrigeration in those days, sauce was used as a way to cover the rancid meat.
Once you understand the basic recipe, there are dozens of variations. If you’ve ever made macaroni and cheese from scratch, you’ve made a Mornay sauce, which is simply a béchamel with cheese added to it.
Tulsa chef, Marcus Vause, tells of another classic variation of a béchamel sauce called a Soubise sauce. This sauce combines sautéed onion and pureed onions with the béchamel sauce. He says that fennel can be used in place of the onions.
Originally from Houston, Chef Vause is currently busy getting ready to open two new restaurants. Tavolo, a new Italian Restaurant is set to open in May and SOCIAL food and drink is slated to open in about a year or so.
After coming to Oklahoma as a teen, he spent time on the family farm and learned firsthand the satisfaction of hard work and the joy of living farm to table.
Before becoming a chef, Vause was a graphic designer, accomplished musician and art director. Naturally creative, he decided to use that energy and drive to create beautiful food from the freshest possible ingredients. Now, the plate is his canvas and the kitchen, his studio.
He suggests using the Soubise sauce with lamb. It is also great on vegetables, chicken or eggs.
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 quart whole milk, warmed
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Melt butter in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat. Add flour and cook for a couple of minutes to cook out raw taste of flour. Do not allow the roux to brown. Whisk in the warm milk until mixture is smooth. Stirring constantly, continue to cook until the sauce is thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir for another2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and Season to taste with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
To turn Béchamel into a Soubise sauce, you’ll need…
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 lb. onions, sliced
- 1 quart béchamel sauce
In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, but not brown. Transfer to a blender or food processor and process until pureed. Return to pot, stir in Béchamel and bring to a simmer.
Makes 1 quart